Friday, September 9, 2011

Honoring an Ancestor

   According to oral history in my mother’s family, one of our ancestors bought his freedom by hiring his time as a cobbler.  After Emancipation, his descendants worked primarily as farm laborers, but his shoe-making skills remained in the family for over 100 years.  When my mother was growing up in the 1940s, she had a pair of oxfords that she did her best to wear out because she wanted a pair of patent leather mary janes instead.  Unfortunately, every time she thought the hated shoes were beyond repair her grandfather would show up and fix them.

    I didn’t have the opportunity to directly observe elders practicing this craft, but shoe-making must be in the blood because in high school, I started making footwear from original patterns.  Someone had given us a book of vinyl wallpaper samples and I made all kinds of accessories from them including tote bags, hats, and this wallet:

I also used the pages with flocked arabesque designs to make slippers for all my school friends as Christmas presents.  That same season I was cast as a Hora dancer in our annual Christmas concert.  We were all supposed to wear tall black boots but I didn’t own any and since my parents refused to buy them for me, I decided to make them myself.  I bought some polyvinyl “leather,” cut out pieces of plastic carpet runner for the soles, and got my father to cut the heels out of blocks of wood.  The end result was rather crude but they served well enough as a stage costume and held up through the rigors of the dance.

    I haven’t made any human sized shoes in over thirty years but in honor of my cobbler ancestor I am proud to present the first in a series of tutorial videos on making 1:6 scale shoes for dolls:

À Bientôt


  1. Very informative.

    Out of necessity, I made a similar pair of sandals for Mattel's Li'l Miss Make-up doll and included a written tutorial here.

    (Disclaimer/Exceptions: I am not as creative as you are and definitely lack your patience. I used elastic instead of ribbons; I did not use a template; I did not use sticky back foam; and I did not carefully cut the foam as you instructed.)



  2. Hi Frannie and Debbie,

    Glad you liked the tutorial. Li'l Miss Make-up looks very sweet in her home-grown sandals. These styles are a good way to extend the shoe wardrobes for dolls with odd sized feet.

  3. I've made doll shoes with a similar method too, and I also didn't use sticky back foam- it makes all the difference because you're spared a lot of fumbling with the ribbons. As always brilliant tutorial. :D

  4. I just finished reading a book called "When I was a Slave" which are actually first person accounts of American slaves recollections that were gathered in during the Great Depression.

    One of the impressions I came away with was that slaves had a number of great skills - shoe making, hide tanning, fabric making, sewing,etc. It makes me ponder how these skilled laborers were not allowed to convert these skills immeditely into small businesses. It should have been a natural progression since the former slaveholders would have needed for the first time to purchase these services. When I ponder it for more than a minute I get really angry.

    But anyway - I was excited to see this post bc you are the first person I have heard acknowledge one of those skills as having been passed down and become something of a family tradition.

    Of course, I also like learning about 1/6 doll shoe making! Great post on both counts!!

  5. Hi Alrunia,

    I just bought a hot glue gun because I want to try some wedgie shoe styles with 1/4" foam that doesn't come in sticky back version so we'll see how much fumbling with the ribbons that entails.


    I appreciate your thoughts. Many Africans came to the Americas with these skills. They didn't necessarily learn them in apprenticeship here. Frank Yerby's book, _Dahomey_ is a fascinating novel that highlights the kinds of skills that Africans had developed in their own societies. The hero learns many different trades and puts them to very good use rebelling against slavery after he is captured and sold in the U.S. Besides shoe-making, sewing and carpentry are other skills that have been handed down in my family.

  6. thanks for the book title. I will definitely check it out.

  7. So happy to see the shoe making tutorial again. LOL! You were born to teach.

  8. Hi Vanessa,

    Stay tuned, this is not the shoe tutorial you saw on a sneak preview. There are six tutorials in that series and the one you saw was number three or four.